I have followed the American presidential primary election that is currently ongoing and nearing its terminal end in June, 2016. At institutional level, it basically involves the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
While the Democratic Party has and profess many shades of liberalism, the Republican Party is more conservative in its orientations and inward looking. The ideological posture of each party is often expected to be imbibed and reflected in the manifestoes of its candidates. The end product of such ideological orientation is often seen in the domestic and foreign policies of each incumbent American president.
At the individual level, right from the beginning of this electoral cycle, the number of candidates in the Republican Party was more than those in the Democratic Party with attendant implications for cohesion, party unity and discipline. While initially there was no front runner in the Republican Party, the situation was different in Democratic Party where Mrs Hillary Clinton was a clear favourite by a mile over other contenders, including Mr Bernie Sanders from beginning.
However, with the contest almost over, two clear front runners have emerged in form of the America’s former first lady, who was also former Secretary of State and a former Senator representing New York in time past. That is Mrs Hillary Clinton. On the other side of the political and ideological divide, is a New York billionaire with many business interests spawning different strata of the society. He is Mr Donald Trump. While, Mrs Clinton might be seen as a woman, liked abroad given her stint as Secretary of State and mostly unlikeable by a section of American voters, particularly white males; Mr Trump is brash, verbose and conceited with deep notions of America being first and becoming great again. He is also widely despised, unlikeable and deeply offends the sensibilities of many American minorities, women and college graduates. His constant refrain to make America great again might be a political slogan but might also mean something deeper that would shape and influence American foreign policy and of course, shape world history in ways unforeseen if he is elected America’s president. For now, what that slogan and refrain means is open to speculations and conjectures.
However, of concern to this analysis is what do these two disparate individuals bring to the table in terms of America’s foreign policy towards Africa in particular and the world in general? This question is germane as the two gladiators pivot towards claiming their respective parties’ nomination as flagbearers. Their respective world view and foreign policy positions would definitely shape, alter and set new course for the structure of international system. That is why it is comical, if not laughable when some commentators argue that what is the business of Nigerians and Africans about the American Presidential Elections. Let’s be clear. America’s business is world business as they possess the greatest known amount of technological and nuclear armaments, one of the largest economies, one of the best and ubiquitous secret service, a major superpower and a dominant force in the security council of the United Nations, apart from being able to influence, prop-up and topple governments around world.
It’s a realism that any sovereign state would ignore at its peril. Even the low price of crude oil and its attendant disarticulation of the Nigerian economy being presently encountered, is a by-product of and traceable to American foreign policy objectives to punish and whip into line, the Russians! Thus, we refer to domestic and foreign policies of Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump as Clintonism and Trumpism respectively. It is the business of NIIA and other similar institutions in Nigeria and around the world to study and do a critical appraisal of these two individuals and their unfolding policies.
Thus, the question subsist. What foreign policy objectives will be pursued when any of these two individuals come to power? To answer this question, it is necessary to state that individuals, whether president or not, do not singularly determines foreign policy objectives in America. A lot of institutions, including the Military Industrial Complex, Security Organizations, the Law Making Body and other sundry institutions have and do play a role in shaping America’s foreign policy objectives. But foreign policy objectives, as it is well known in international relations parlance, is often tailored to reflect the thinking and vision of the new players and power brokers in town, which in this case, ceteris paribus, is likely to be either Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump. Thus, it is necessary to analyse the comments, views and vision statement of both on the likely shape and direction of America’s domestic and foreign policy.
A close look at Mr Trump’s comments and views, especially is vision and mission statement on America’s foreign policy shows a likely withdrawal of America’s investment, material and otherwise, from numerous commitments around the world. His concept of ‘America first’ and make ‘America great again’ could be a prelude to principle of isolationism, that is this context, positive isolation of America from world politics. Of course, such actions and foreign policy objectives have security and regime stability implications for many governments around the world. In particular, the underbelly of Western Europe would be exposed as there is likely to be Russian aggression towards the Balkan States inclusive of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Asia is likely to witness a lot of upheavals that might permanently reshape that region.
In Africa, there is tendency for murderous gangs, terrorist organizations and other anti-state elements to capitalise on the vacuum likely to be created if Trumpism policies are implemented as laid out in his foreign policy speech. Of course, the Middle East would literally be turned into a battle ground as competing spheres of influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia might spiral out of control.
Even a small implementation of Trumpism being implemented by Obama has achieved a similar scenario described above. This is not to say Obama’s indecision and refusal to act in committing America to act is the same as Donald Trump foreign policy of isolationism. That refusal to act is what is evident in the near collapse of the state in Syria and ongoing turmoil in Middle East. Moreover, Asia would witness an arms and nuclear race if Mr Trump make good his promise to encourage Japan and South Korea to possess nuclear weapons. Under that possibility, Asia would become highly unstable and volatile. It should, however be noted that Trumpism would be a disaster as well domestically.
In terms of Aids and Loans, Africa countries are likely to face much hardship. Countries like Burundi and a host of others including Nigeria that regularly receives alms, aids and such like should start preparing and adjusting. Trumpism as a foreign policy is most likely to also affect migration as the rules would become tighter; civil societies would get less funding from international donor agencies; terms, balance and volume of trade are more than likely to be in favour of America than it currently is. The prognosis of Donald Trump or Trumpism as America’s foreign policy objectives does not sound or look good for Africa, especially for those steeped in America’s largesse and aid. All these is evident in the way Mr Trump view and speak about Africa’s rulers. But on the other hand, it might help a number of African countries to look inward and wean themselves from the age-long and often slavish relationship between the US and their countries. But one thing is certain, there is likely to be more America’s foreign policy somersaults if Mr Trump becomes America’s president.
For Mrs Clinton, the difference might just be more of form than substance. Even though her foreign policy speech was more matured and tempered, she is not likely to be much different from Mr Trump in terms of foreign policy objectives. While she is likely to maintain traditional ties and not adopt isolationist policies, she is likely to be firm in some cases and less firm in others depending on time and interest as it relates to America. The danger for Africa regimes and economies is still the same, even though less under Clinton. Under Clinton presidency, Europe and Asia would still be safe as it is under Mr Obama, while Middle East would remain at its current level given its problems are seemingly intractable, except Mrs Clinton reads the situation carefully and act decisively.
It should be noted, that why there won’t be much difference between Clintonism and Trumpism is the ongoing America’s economic realities of not being able to shoulder its enormous responsibilities and pay for its commitments around the world. To be and act as the world policeman comes with many challenges that is increasingly difficult for America to bear alone. That economic realism coupled with domestic demands is beginning to reshape America’s foreign policy and there is ongoing internal fervour to rein in spending to take care of millions Americans who are destitute and repair broken down infrastructures in America’s cities. With this in mind, Europe will pay a higher share of the cost, Africa will receive less in terms of attention, aid and loans, while Asia too will contribute a token whether it is Mrs Clinton (Clintonism) or Mr Trump (Trumpism) or anyone for that matter, as America, or more appropriately, America’s foreign policy is entering a new phase post Obama.
Dr. Olugbemiga Afolabi
Political Science Lecturer
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria.